March 2, 2020 · Applied Critical Thinking Red Teaming strategy messaging

Honing Your Key Messages with Red Teaming

Key messages are one of the most important legs that the communications campaign lays on and thus hold the power to make or break it. In a sense, any resources you invest in key messages would not go to waste. I’d like to introduce you to a technique that could help you separate your signal from the noise around.

Today, we will take a leaf from The Red Team Handbook and adjust it a bit to suit our needs. The technique is called the Analysis of Competing Hypotheses or ACH for short. In a military or intelligence context, it is used to explore and identify disparate explanations for the current situation.

ACH  identifies alternative explanations and helps point out the best solution.

The Red Team Handbook, version 9, p. 95

Since this is an improvement technique rather than conception, you need to have your key messages prepared. If you don’t, go ahead and do that first. Don’t try to use this technique when you are drafting your key messages as well, as it will complicate the task.

There are three consecutive phases to this technique: Research, Analysis and Adjustment.

Researching the Universe

The first thing to do is to look around and make an inventory of the other signals that are targeting the same audience as yours. The minimum is your direct competitors. But if you stop there, this will not be an as effective tool as it could be.

Go ahead and look at the companies that sell to your target audience, the other solutions your target audience employ for the job you are doing for them, and maybe even completely unrelated companies that are household names, the companies currently running advertising campaigns with a lot of media. Identify and take account of their messaging.

Now, if your mind works like mine, I’d advise putting them on a spreadsheet, row by row. This will help us create a good matrix.

Analysing the Noise

Now, you need to compare the inventory you just prepared with your key messages. Pull yours and put them on the columns of the same spreadsheet.

Now go through the spreadsheet line by line, examining each of the competitors’ messages in relation to yours. If any of your messages resemble the one you are analyzing now, put “x” on that column -- and by “resemble” I mean similar in content. Please make a comment on that cell to note what you think is the issue there. So this document can be used later on when your memory about the reasons faded away.

If the messages are somehow similar in voice and style, that is a much bigger issue and needs to be addressed through a shift in the brand voice which may or may not require a brand refresh. But to help us informed highlight the cell with a colour so we will be able to see if there is such a need.

If there is no resemblance, leave that cell empty and proceed. Do the same for all the rows. At the end of this exercise, you will have a good understanding of how distinct your key messages are.

Now instead of “x”s you can go with a weighted or tiered approach according to the similarity of the messages. But it will complicate things and make it a bit harder. I’d advise keeping things simpler but if you think your landscape is more complex, you can do that too.

When you are done, see how similar your messages to others per message and per competitor. If your “x”s are around a group of rows, that might mean your message is similar to one of your competitors. If that is the case, and your voice is not similar to that competitor or if the competitor is sitting clearly a different mind space than yours, you might choose to ignore this. It is a bit of a risk, but not a huge one.

Or if your “x”s are on a column, that might mean one of your key messages are similar to all your competitors’. Adjusting that one single key message would help you immensely but you can get away with not adjusting that if you are not sure how.

If your “x”s are all over the place, that means your key messaging was probably working for all your competitors rather than yours. It is good knowing this.

Whatever the case may be, proceed to the adjustment to make sure your messages are distinct than your competitors’.

Adjusting the Messages

Before going forward, duplicate the sheet so your original research will stay untouched. Use the new sheet to adjust.

Now we will work through the columns and see how can we change. The comment you put in the cell will help us here as well. Why do you think they are similar? Try to adjust those messages to exclude the similarities. The main trick here is to keep your brand voice and style.

Do this for each row per column. At the end of this process, you will have less similar messages than your original ones. You should clear the “x”s and the comments from cells.

And do the analysis and adjustment one more time to make sure yours are still dissimilar than others. Because when you are adjusting yours you might subconsciously be inspired by the others.

Et voilà! You now have the key messages that are different and distinct than your competitors’. Hope these help and let me know of your results when you use this technique in the comments section below.

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